Forwarded message/question from Ken Knight

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Mon Aug 21 00:45:12 CDT 2000

On Fri, 11 Aug 2000, Vaidya Sundaram wrote:

> My question relates to the use of neti neti. It would
> appear to me that this process is endless as it
> depends upon the work of Buddhi and subject/object
> relationship. Therefore I would affirm the statement
> in the Avadhut Gita, 3.17 which says: 'The saying of
> Sruti 'Not this Not this' does not apply to Atman.
> How can it be said 'When all is subtracted Atman alone
> remains'?
>  I do not have the Sanskrit for this and am relying
> upon a translation by H. P. Shastri.
> I cmpare with this the verse from Shankara's Upadesa
> SAhasrI 1.17.  The transliterated Sanskrit is given as
> follows:
> 'neti netIti dehAdin aphhyatmA vasesitah
>  avisesAtma-bodhArtham tenAvidyA nivartitA'
> This is translated in my version as:' When the body
> and all other superimposed elements have been
> eliminated by thinking 'Not thus, Not Thus', the Self
> is left over at the end.  Therefore one eliminates
> nescience in order to become awake to Self that is
> void of all distinctions.'
> I wonder if you could give your own translation of
> this verse as my own efforts, without a good knowledge
> of grammar, are not sufficient to challenge the above
> translation is it is incorrect.

I think the translation is on the mark.  A salient point to note is the
word bodha -- thinking -- the activity of the buddhi or intellect.

> As Brahman is the substratum and all pervading, as
> proximity is but part of mAya in my view, then I do
> not understand how any process of thought can lead
> towards or away from Brahman. I would refer to
> Shankara's own verse in the above work ,18.32, when he
> says 'Only when there is a reflection of the Inner
> Witness can words, by referring to the reflection,
> indirectly indicate the Witness.  They cannot
> designate the latter directly in any way.'
> I wonder if anyone would like to comment upon the
> above.

Basically I think your question boils down to this.  If Brahman (in the
form of the Jiva) is enveloped by Maya and has "forgotten" its true
nature, how can it ever free itself?  The Neti Neti process cannot work
because it is an illusionary buddhi that is making an illusionary
distinction between "this" and "not this."

To describe what is happening, an analogy is given to the sun.  You see it
in the sky shining.  Then a cloud covers it and suddenly you can't see it
anymore.  But after the cloud passes the sun is visible again.  During the
entire time it never stopped shining, the shining just wasn't visible.
The sun is like Brahman and the cloud is like Maya.  The analogy is not
perfect because there is no external observer, Brahman "sees" itself but
it is good enough for our purposes.

How does the cloud pass from in front of the the sun?  One possible answer
to this could be that it eventually just does.  In other words
enlightenment is random and there is nothing that can be done to effect
it.  This view is rejected by Advaita Vedanta.  Instead Maya can be forced
to dissipate by revealing its own self-contradictions.  When all possible
subject-object relationships have been destroyed, what remains is pure
subject--Brahman.  How is this done?  Well, that's the tricky part and
that's the aim of Vedanta as a spiritual discipline.  The process of
"neti, neti" means the systematic analysis of every worldly phenomenon.
Once their falsehood has been proven and there is nothing left, Brahman
will shine forth without any further effort.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at>

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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